How Amazon associates, like this suburban mom, work their networks for the retail giant

"Black Friday - Cyber Monday is a whole event. It's a lot and it's crazy."

From her Rancho Cucamonga, CA., house, Erica H - who requested her full last name be kept out of this story - is running her own small division of the biggest retailer on Earth. 

Erica is part of Amazon’s associates program, which awards members a small percentage of the sales they generate through their own websites and social accounts. This mom of four sons and caretaker to four dogs, reaches a highly specified niche of women who happen to do a lot of online shopping. 

In the past week, she added 1,000 new members to Erica’s Steals & Finds, her rapidly growing Facebook page of 25,300 members, which she launched in May 2018. Her group of female shoppers might be more mom mode than designer, but they have wedding receptions, cocktail parties and the office to shop for like anyone else.  

If Erica, who describes herself as "hot mess" and is resigned to being a size 12 in the land of the "Real Housewives of Orange County," is recommending a flattering dress or a holiday gift, her followers are apt to trust her advice.

Amazon’s associates program allows anyone to set up a referral business, but once admitted, recommenders have to hit sales targets, and maintain a website and social presence that meet brand guidelines. The business allows Erica to work from home, connected to a remote-based assistant in the Philippines. 

As for Amazon, it gets to tap into people’s specific spheres of influence in places that would be impossible to target so intimately with advertising.

Campaign US checked in with Erica to see how business went on Cyber Monday, how she connects with followers and what’s next for her business.

How was shopping on Cyber Monday? How is the holiday season in general shaping up with your group?

Black Friday - Cyber Monday is a whole event. It's a lot and it's crazy. The next closest thing is "Prime Day" in July. It takes a lot to prepare for and keeps me so busy.

This holiday season, I feel like people are trying to shop early. So many in our group are already done. 

Top products of the last 30 days are beauty, home needs, and stocking stuffers. L.O.L. Surprise (dolls) are really popular for the girls. People are also buying clothes and lots of vacuums and robot vacuums, as well as Apple watches and AirPods. Weighted blankets and instant pots are also really popular. 

Tell us about your members and how you connect with them.

(Before I started) I had seen all kinds of influencers who do what I do. But when I saw them, I actually felt kind of bad about myself, so I wanted to make a group where I could be real and where we could lift each other up. The final straw was when someone was posting about their favorite tummy control dress then the next post was her in a bikini saying she was a size 2 or 4. I am a bit more of a hot mess and so far from perfect. I wanted a place where we could all share deals we find online and a safe place where we could lift each other up and feel good about ourselves. 

How has your life changed now that you are running a small part of big retail from your house?

I had low self-esteem when I started this group. It is kind of crazy because I felt like I had friendship and girlfriend issues because I gained weight. I was a size 4 my whole life, I am now a size 12. But I have met so many positive women running this group. It completely changed my self-worth and self-esteem. I have gone from hiding in the back row to jumping to the front of group pictures.

People are even starting to recognize me in town. I have never been the cool girl. Now, it’s "Come meet me." I could never be a celebrity, so it's kind of funny.

Now that you have built an audience, you’ve recently expanded beyond recommending Amazon to other retailers.

What is cool about Amazon is they let anybody try, then see if you sink or swim. Other companies, if they say you are too small, won’t let you in. 

I am now also with ShopStyle Collective (an ecommerce platform that weds retail brands with appropriate influencers, part of the Japanese retail-tech giant Rakuten). They approve you. Recommendations from Kohls, Old Navy, Ulta and Nordstrom Rack have been going really crazy in the group. 

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